Working His Good Pleasure in Us
Having pointed to Christ Jesus as the quintessential exemplar of humility and service, Paul now commends that way of living to the Philippians. They have a good track record regarding obedience to the “word of life,” be that word expressed by the Apostle or the sacred writings. Indeed, what a wonderful compliment Paul paid that church—one which every church should covet.
Out of this obedience to Christ, they are to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [them], both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” This line tends to throw people off wondering what the Apostle meant. How are we who are saved by grace to work out our salvation? And why with fear and trembling? As I have said in these pages before—and will continue to say—grace is free but not cheap. God intends to save us from our sins, not in them. Hence, to “work out our salvation” is to take God’s intent to sanctify our lives seriously. Our Lord is so kind and gracious that He refuses to leave us where we are at the moment of our rebirth but demands that we grow in grace, that we draw closer to Him, that we run farther up and farther in, as C. S. Lewis would say. The Father’s goal in saving us is to glorify His great name by making us more like His Son.
But how shall we do this? The same way we were saved—by His grace—for He is the One who works in us that we may do His good pleasure. The difference is that while in our regeneration, the work was entirely the Lord’s, in this work of sanctification, we too are required to work, to do our part, to abhor our sin and desire godliness. And by His grace, we can learn to do things without grumbling or questioning, not only going one mile but two, bearing insults if need be for the cause of Christ, understanding that the cause of Christ will often have more to do with the change happening within us than with displaying a banner before the world. In this way do we shine as lights in a dark world while “holding fast to the word of life,” and we must hold fast to that word if we shall ever grow in grace.
Paul, as the one who preached to the Philippians and founded this church, and who modeled throughout his ministry such humble and sacrificial service, proclaims his readiness to be “poured out as a drink offering,” that is martyred for the faith which he had shared with them, and calls them to rejoice at such an opportunity. The Christian life is a humble life, martyr’s life, a life of testimony to the One who works His good pleasure in us.